Shaoul the Baghdadi arrived in Vaysechvoos on erev Shabbos and everyone took note. Perhaps it was his clothing–the white robe with the corded waistband and black overcoat that fell at his ankles. Or it could have been the high fez cap on his head. Then again his dark and deep set eyes were not like those of a Jew from Vaysechvoos or even from nearby Lodz. No, everyone agreed that this man was different, maybe not even a real Jew.
But who would turn away a stranger on erev Shabbos? And especially at such a critical time when rumors of an impending pogrom abounded. Certainly not Feivel the Tanner who welcomed the strange man to spend the night in his small, clean and safe home only a few minutes walk from the shul. While the Baghdadi was unfamiliar with the cholent and kashe and the gildene yoykh of Eastern Europe, he politely ate what was prepared for him.
Meanwhile, eyebrows were raised, and different ones speculated as to who this Jew” was or whether he was simply an apikoros. After all, what real Jew would have the outward trappings the likes of this Shaoul? What Jew would not know from kashe?
Shimmon the Butcher, in observing the Baghdadi in prayer at shul the following morning, pointed out, “this apikoros doesn’t even know how to pray correctly.”
“Yes,” Mendel the Merchant agreed. “He’s made up new words to our traditional prayers and he prays with a slightly different posture and on top of that, his pronunciation in the holy tongue is not the same as that of our holy men of Vaysechvoos. He must be an apikoros.”
As Shabbos ended and the villagers made their way home, the sage of Vaysechvoos remembered the story of a faithful remnant of Jews who spoke and dressed and prayed differently. They came from a faraway place, living among the goyim, and yet they had remained true to Torah. “This remnant,” the Sage explained, “were holders of a great secret–a word that would bring hope and protect them from anti-Semites. This secret would make life better for all the Jews in the shtetl for years to come.”
The Sage hurried to the home of the Tanner for Vaysechvoos was certainly a place that needed hope and protection. But to his great consternation the Baghdadi visitor had made his way out of the shtetl never to return. He had not returned to Feival’s abode for he recognized that the people of Vaysechvoos were not ready to accept him. Their fears had closed their eyes to the possibilities a stranger could bring to their Eastern European Jewish world.